It is only when you read and hear the range and depth of remarks made about Charles Kennedy in the days after his death that you fully understand what he meant to people.

Five months on from his passing, I still find it difficult to believe that he is no longer with us. I have been involved in politics for nearly three decades. Charles was a constant source of inspiration to me throughout that time.

Next week, many of Charles' friends will gather in London to remember him 32 years after he first came to the capital as a 23 year old MP.

When Charles arrived at Westminster it was only his third trip to London. His by-election win came as such a shock that on polling night, he had to ask a BBC journalist whether his new job came with a salary attached.

Veteran MPs remember Charles’ arrival well. Ken Clarke has said that when Charles came to Westminster, he was a student who looked like a schoolboy. But older parliamentarians underestimated him at their peril.

His finest moment, in parliamentary terms, came on Iraq.

Charles showed great courage and mastery of the House in the face of huge opposition. He was hounded, harangued and heckled from both government and opposition benches. He was accused of being an appeaser, but he stuck to his stance. It’s easy with the benefit of hindsight to see the strength and rightness of his position; but it was a very different story in March 2003. It was the mark of a man of principle.

And as Gerald Kaufman, now the father of the house, observed: “He had very, very strong views but he was never vindictive. He was never malevolent.”

This was something about Charles that I particularly admired. He was always able to disagree with people without making them feel that they were guilty of some moral failing.

Soon after Charles passed away, one current nationalist MP recalled appearing on an election results programme with him after a bad night for the SNP. They said: “I was getting a hard time in debate and I can remember Charles turning to me and consoling me. Instead of putting the boot in, he realised the kind of evening we were having.”

This example, as much as anything else, sums up Charles’ approach to politics. He was always true to his convictions, but respectful of those who held contrary views. At a time when our politics feels more shrill and divided than ever, his is an example we should strive to emulate.

My own favourite memory of Charles comes from the Dunfermline by-election in 2006. By any measure, this campaign came after a difficult few weeks for Charles. He had recently stepped down as leader following his admission that he had a problem with alcohol. Media coverage had been brutal and the Lib Dems were tanking in the polls. A walkabout on Dunfermline High Street was his first public appearance since his resignation.

As the candidate, I was very nervous about the reception he would receive. Charles, in contrast, was wholly relaxed.

Supporters, journalists and camera crews made progress slow. As we passed a shop doorway, a lady of some years called out, “We love you Charles.”

Quick as flash, he replied, “Thanks, but keep it quiet. The party’s in enough bother as it is.”

The side of Charles that most people did not see was his fierce commitment to his family, and his son Donald in particular. Everyone who knew Charles will miss him. But of course, they are the ones who will feel his loss most keenly.

Charles Kennedy was a one off. A politician who could connect with people like no one else I have ever met. An MP passionate about the Highlands who made a huge contribution to our national politics. A dedicated father and friend to people across the political spectrum. It is devastating that he has been taken from us so soon when he had so much more to give.